Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress writes the laws and sets trade policy. And so it was for 200 years. Over the last few decades, presidents have seized both of those powers through a mechanism known as Fast Track.

Because Fast Track’s dramatic shift in the balance of powers between branches of government occurred via an arcane procedural mechanism, it obtained little scrutiny – until recently. Its use by Democratic and Republican presidents alike to seize Congress’ constitutional prerogatives, “diplomatically legislate” non-trade policy, and internationally preempt state policy, has made it increasingly controversial.

Fast Track facilitated controversial pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), which extend beyond traditional tariff-cutting to set constraints on domestic financial, energy, patents and copyright, food safety, immigration and other policies.

“Rise and Fall” explores the process of designing U.S. trade agreements from 1789 to the present. Congress’ last delegation of Fast Track terminated in 2007.

At issue is what negotiating and approval process can best secure prosperity for the greatest number of Americans, while preserving the vital tenets of American democracy and our constitutional checks and balances in the era of globalization. The outcome of this perennial power struggle between Congress and the president will play out again starting in 2013, shaping our futures.

Lori Wallach is the director and founder of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch (GTW) and coauthor of “Whose Trade Organization? A Comprehensive Guide to the WTO” (The New Press, 2004). A widely cited trade and globalization policy expert, Wallach has testified before Congress, federal agencies, and foreign legislatures. She graduated from Wellesley College and Harvard Law School. (Public Citizen)

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